In Sharjah, a new biennial is born to lend a face to the trove of graphic design gems in the Middle East and beyond. This is Fikra Graphic Design Biennial that launched its first edition on 9 November and will be running for 21 days with Sharjah-based graphic design studio and education platform Fikra holding the reins. The event is hosting designers, collectives, institutions and industry veterans from over 20 countries, whose cultural production surveys the limits, scope and purpose of graphic design in the 21st century.
“The biennial comprises exhibitions, performances, workshops, talks, and a conference that collectively showcase an expanded view of the field of graphic design,” Salem Al-Qassimi, who founded Fikra in 2006, said in a statement. “This is perfect especially for the first edition of the biennial, as I’d like to think of it as ‘undefining’ graphic design – challenging preconceived ideas of the discipline but also providing an unexpectedly broad array of graphic design works, concepts and initiatives.”
The event is spread across multiple floors of an iconic building that formerly housed the Bank of Sharjah and is soon to be demolished, with its façade dressed in a mural by French-Tunisian artist el Seed in his signature calligraffiti style. Dubai-based T.ZED Architects have sensitively restored the building while preserving its historical features for the biennial.
Lawrence Lemaoana. Lest we Forget. 2017. Embroideries on Kanga. 155x110cm. Copyright Lawrence Lemaoana. The Department of Non-Binaries at Fikra Graphic Design Biennial 2018
Inspired by the UAE’s innovative ministries such as those for happiness and artificial intelligence, the biennial’s theme is centred on an imaginative Ministry of Graphic Design that affords a generous understanding of the art form. New York-based designer Prem Krishnamurthy, Berlin-based Emily Smith and South Korean Na Kim serve as artistic directors with the Ministry comprising six departments, each with a different curatorial focus.
The Department of Mapping Margins is helmed by anthropological archaeologist Uzma Z Rizvi and features talks on areas such as pedagogy and the future of design; and curator Alia Al-Sabi’s Department of Graphic Optimism shines the spotlight on design archives of Hisham Al-Madhloum, who steered the UAE’s graphic design scene in the ’80s and ’90s.
Jonathas de Andrade. ABC da Cana (Sugarcane ABC). 2016. 26 framed pigment prints on Hahnemühle paper mounted on aluminum. The Department of Non-Binaries at Fikra Graphic Design Biennial 2018
Curated by Nina Paim and Corinne Gisel of the Basel-based non-profit common-interest, the Department of Non-Binaries focuses on projects by 21 international designers and artists, who offer scintillating insight into intricacies of graphic design, human culture and personal identity. Among the exhibition highlights are Omani artist Cheb Moha’s films In Progress (2015) and Present (2017), South African visual artist Lawrence Lemaoana’s embroidery works on African fabric kanga, and Brazilian Manuela Eichner Monstera Deliciosa (2015-18) series.
The Department of Flying Saucers, curated by designer Hala Al-Ani, includes exhibitions by international art and design spaces Seendosi, Public Fiction, Foundland and Turbo; and Na Kim and Emily Smith take curatorial lead of the Department of Dematerialising Language to explore non-linguistic approaches to interpreting visuals. The Office of the Archive, with Tetsuya Goto and Saki Ho from Japan and Hong Kong respectively, as heads, is the biennial’s on-site archiving programme that documents activities of each department.
With its studied curatorial diversity and deeply inventive programming, the inaugural event has set an even-keeled tone for all future iterations and is sure to bolster its position on the busy international design biennial circuit.
Don’t miss Fikra Graphic Design Biennial that runs until 30 November in the Bank of Sharjah Building in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates. Fikrabiennial.com
Click on the video to watch an exclusive at-home interview with designer Noora Hefzi.